Deepak Chopra And a New Age Of Comic Books

By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 3, 2007

NEW YORK -- For connoisseurs of nerd culture, N.Y. Comic Con is a feast: 30,000 attendees flying their geek flags, some dressed in sci-fi movie costumes, others waiting in line for the guy who drew X-Men comics back when they, like, totally ruled in the '90s.

"Chris Claremont is the greatest artist ever," says Pedro Vega, taking a couple of deep breaths and holding freshly signed comics in his hands. "I'm sort of trembling."

For sheer head-scratching weirdness, though, nothing at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center last weekend could match the exhibit booth for a company called Virgin Comics. The place was low on gaudy outfits, but it was selling a new line of comic books with one of the genre's strangest credit lines ever.

"Chief visionary: Deepak Chopra."

Yes, that Deepak Chopra, the tranquillity-peddling New Age author of more than 40 books, with titles like "Grow Younger, Live Longer: 10 Steps to Reverse Aging" and "The Path to Love: Spiritual Strategies for Healing." The guy is a mind-medicine smoothie for the Oprah set. What is he doing in a genre that (a) targets young men, and (b) is filled with pain and ultra-violence and a whole lot of "Thwackkkk"?

Luckily, the dapper Sharad Devarajan was on hand to explain. Devarajan is Virgin Comics' 32-year-old CEO, and two years ago he teamed with Chopra's son, a 32-year-old former TV correspondent and comic book story editor named Gotham Chopra. Gotham recruited his dad.

"The guy is a best-selling fiction writer and a great storyteller," says Devarajan. Deepak apparently loves the mythology of superheroes, and he signed on with Virgin Comics hoping to reach beyond the ladies-over-30 crowd that adores him.

The company isn't a regular old comic book mill. What Virgin has in mind is a whole new take on Hollywood's time-tested relationship with the comic biz. Until now, successful comic-to-film franchises, like "Spider-Man" and "X-Men," started with characters and plots conceived by comic book artists. Those stories are acquired by studios, which then shop for well-known directors.

But what if you went first to the directors? What if you asked, say, John Woo -- whose films include "Face/Off" and "Mission: Impossible II" -- to dream up his own characters and yarns? You turn that idea into a comic, and even if it doesn't catch on with the kids, you've got a nifty little storyboard, the perfect pitch for a studio.

"We're in the idea business," says Devarajan, who wears his hair slicked back and sounds like a graduate of Columbia Business School, which he is. "We're essentially using comics as a springboard, to games, to movies, to animation. Publishing is just one way to monetize our research and design laboratory."

The company went looking for investors and found a stinking-rich one in Richard Branson, the Virgin Music mogul, who chipped in enough to get the company renamed. (It had been known as Gotham, which started off selling translations of Marvel and DC Comics in India. ) The company has since recruited Woo, who dreamed up a series called 7 Brothers, about a "motley crew of so-called brothers and a power too terrifying to use," as the company describes it. Guy Ritchie, of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" fame, will release the first issue of Game Keeper in March. (It's the story of a man who . . . well, judging from a preview issue, a man who shoots a lot of people.) Also in the roster is Shekhar Kapur, who directed "Elizabeth" and is a Virgin Comics partner. He has two titles, Devi and Snake Woman, both rooted in Indian stories.

"I as a director have so much more control if it's first in a comic," says Kapur, talking from London. "It's my idea. A studio can look at it, and I can tell them, 'It's gone this far,' and that way I'll keep my vision, much more so than I would if I went to a studio and said, 'Let's make a movie about a snake woman.' "

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